I met Dick nearly twelve years ago. He was one of the wardens, or head of the Church Council when I first arrived as rector. My first impression of was that he was quiet and a good listener. It was also evident that he held St. Luke’s best interests at heart. The only issues I ever had with Dick as warden was in how we identified issues and concerns within the parish. Nothing, it seemed, worried Dick in to action.
Calm, chilled or even laid back may best describe Dick’s leadership style. During my first full year as rector a $30,000 deficit came to light. Dick as the dutiful warden reported this issue at the annual meeting. I believe his words to the congregation when discussing the pending deficit was something to the effect of, “yes folks, we have a bit of a financial problem, but I am sure we will get through this, we always do.”
As Dick predicted, St. Luke’s did manage to get through its financial issues and even ended the year with a healthy surplus. But by the end of November a second financial issue arose. It had to do with my salary. By an act of Diocesan Convention the scales for Clergy Salaries were raised. This simple vote of convention now placed my salary below minimum standard. A few days later I emailed Dick asking him how he and the vestry were planning to handle this issue. I also told him I felt it would be best for him to handle this situation since he was one of our delegates to convention and had voted in favor of it.
To this I received one of the hundreds of emails I would receive from Dick. In it he explained his issues with how the congregation was sized as a type III. Based on his calculations, the only reason St. Luke’s had risen to that level was because of our increasing financial demands. He then went on to write that while he voted for the resolution he had not realized the impact it would have on the parish and it wasn’t really in the parish’s best financial interest to raise my salary to the type III minimum.
I have to admit, I could not argue with Dick’s position on how congregations were sized, and to this day, as a member of the human resources committee I continue to argue his point. However, since the issue surrounded my salary, I couldn’t let him off the hook that easily. So, I emailed back arguing that I did not feel I should have to be here for Christmas, because at the time I signed the contract with St. Luke’s I did not realize how hard it would be for me and the girls to be away from families in Hartford on Christmas and therefore I should not be held to that part of my contract. To this Dick replied. I will see what we can work out. And P. S. I really hope you will be at St. Luke’s for Christmas.
At that point in my tenure, I knew Dick’s frugality wasn’t personal, it was about balance and priorities. When it came to the work of the congregation, Dick saw the big picture. He understood St. Luke’s would always have limited resources. How we balanced the use of our resources between the institution and our ministry was important. While Dick was frugal when it came to the needs of the institution, he was beyond generous when it came to the ministry side of our work together.
When St Luke’s was invited to participate in a faith build with Habitat for Humanity, he was quick to offer a matching pledge so we could participate. Whenever there was someone in need, I always knew I could turn to Dick if my discretionary funds were insufficient.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd, ‘Where your treasure is, your heart is also.” Despite our minor squabbles over parish finances, it did not take me long to know, Dick’s treasure had little to do with his bank account or his slice of paradise on Skaneateles Lake. These things were merely tools through which he shared what he treasured most, the grace of God in his life.
On November 16th of this past year, Dick articulated this when he shared his story with the congregation. In course of his homily, he discussed both supernatural miracles and hypernatural miracles and then stated as an engineer he was more inclined to believe in hypernatural miracles because he believed God was trustworthy and obeyed God’s own laws of nature. He then shared the story of his youngest son’s battle with cancer at the age of two. At the end of his homily he implied he believed Jim’s survival was the result of a hypernatural miracle as he listed all the things that had came together in order for Jim to survive. Then Dick added, I give God thanks for all that happened, including the roles played by this community of faith we call St. Luke’s.
In this morning’s Gospel we heard the parable of the talents. I have to admit it is an odd passage to read at a funeral service. And I am sure many of you are wondering why a story that seems to be about money would be read today. The truth be told, it is because Jane wanted the owners words of praise, “well done, good and faithful servant.” To be read.
However, as I have spent the last week reflecting on both my experience of Dick and this passage I have come to realize how fitting this passage is for today. In reality, this passage is not about money and investing, but about the Kingdom of God and the gift of grace we have received through the cross.
Many will claim what they treasure most are their families and their relationships with God. As a young father, Dick experienced first-hand how fragile life really is and how dependent all we hold dear is on the grace of God. Dick,through Jim’s illness, was granted a miracle he would never forget and would spend the remainder of his life paying forward the gift of God’s grace and by cherishing what Dick considered to be his family.
How Dick and Jane define family is very broad. Frankly, family for Dick and Jane constitutes just about every stray person Jane has declared as her child or grandchild. While many of us have been easily led to believe this is more Jane’s thing than Dick’s,through personal experience I have come to realize we were mistaken. While Jane may have been more outgoing in her joy of creating an ever expanding family. Dick silently took pleasure in this as well.
I didn’t realize this until last summer. As I mentioned earlier, Syracuse is not our home, home for the Swan family is 4.5 hours east, just outside of Hartford, Ct. Through the years we have lived here, Dick and Jane have become surrogate grandparents for our two daughters. So much so that both Dick and Jane have a collection of collegiate items from Niagara University where our daughter Kayleigh goes and San Francisco, where our older daughter Chelsea studies vocal performance.
Last summer, while Kayleigh worked on campus at Niagara, the only thing she wanted was for Dick and Jane to visit her on campus. Of course Jane could not have been more excited about such an adventure and I assumed Dick was quietly willing to go along for Jane and Kayleigh’s sake. Of course on the day we chose to go it was pouring rain. So the tour of campus was done by driving around in the car. We ate lunch at a restaurant Kayleigh had carefully picked out knowing Jane’s dietary restrictions followed by a visit to Kayleigh’s favorite bakery with the day ending time for Kayleigh and Jane to shop in the book store. All the while Dick happily went with the flow.
As I think back over that day, I can still remember Dick’s expression, it was the same expression he often had when he was here, or when we were with him on his boat slowly cruising up and down the lake. It was an expression of contentment and joy.
Forty-four years ago Dick realized he had been entrusted with the gift of God’s grace and love, and like the first two servants, Dick invested what God gave him in all of us. It seems nothing gave him more pleasure than when we freely returned the dividends of his investments whether it was through the simple gift of a collegiate cap or a hurried campus tour and lunch on a rainy day.
On February 2nd, when Dick’s soul departed this earth, it was the dividends from the love and grace Dick extended to each of us that he presented to our creator and in return he heard the words Jane loves so much spoken from mouth of God,”well done good and faithful servant.” Yes, Dick, well done and thank you, good and faithful friend.”